Vilde Rolfsen's Plastic Bag Landscapes
If you'll bear with me for a moment... There is a scene in the 1986 film version of the Nutcracker that has always stuck with me (I promise this is relevant): after the party, at the stroke of midnight, a battle erupts between the Nutcracker, the toy soldiers and the mice--the Mouse King is defeated by Clara, who throws her slipper at him, and nothing remains of him but his giant shirt. In a mystical, eerie segment, Clara walks inside the cavernous shirt, eventually finding the Nutcracker transformed into a handsome prince, and romantic ballet dance ensues. But what I always loved about that scene in particular was the idea of something as ordinary as a shirt being pared down and transformed into a mystical, cavelike space through which miniature Clara apprehensively tip-toes, and in which all of the folds and creases of the fabric become monumentalized.
Honestly, that was my first thought when I saw Vilde Rolfsen's Plastic Bag Landscapes. And they are that: plastic bags she found in the street, from an unknown landscape much more familiar to us when we think of what that term usually implies. Although we don't see that landscape, and where she found them is beside the point, really, they become landscapes themselves through detailed, closeup photographs.
By using light and different colored cardboard, I play with perspective. When the studio lights hits the plastic and the colours shine through, the plastic bag does not look like a plastic bag anymore, but makes the plastic bag look like an imaginary landscape.
She approaches the post-production process in an editorial way, where she retouches and spends a lot of time working on details. Of her editing process, she says:
It is a time where I can reflect and consider it. Although what I enjoy most about making photographs is to create the sets, the lighting and the placement of the object and the camera. Because for me that’s what it’s really about. Not just clicking a button, but create an image as a whole.
These landscapes are gorgeous. And what I like about them is that they don't feel vast, and they don't try to turn the plastic bags into something other than plastic bags; they clearly still are. But knowing that forces us to meet these scenes halfway, to put ourselves in the mindset of exploring something that we carry our groceries home in and never give much thought to at all. The tactile quality of plastic bags is something we understand immediately but never consider; Rolfsen challenges us to see the world a little differently.
Because they are called landscapes, there is an automatic desire to try to find the earth and the sky, and perhaps the sea, but they also feel eerily cave-like, if cave walls could glow from within. Influenced by the "different types of light you see in Norway during the different seasons: the blue hour, the northern lights, the midnight sun, the polar dark, and the southern summer night light," Rolfsen conjures magical, otherworldly spaces out of discarded plastic bags found in the real world.
The compositions are minimal and yet when we do focus on the details, elaborate in their detail. Like a glacier field fraught with hidden crevices, they are beautiful imaginary stretches of terrain, but while their syrupy colors draw you in, they are not without at least the slightest hint of uncertainty or darkness. Other than associating plastic bags with mundane tasks like grocery shopping, I think of trash bags and safety warnings to prevent asphyxiation. I start to question whether to trust the cheerfulness of the colors, and whether or not I will somehow become trapped in this unbreathable space. Therein lies the reason I find them so compelling: as with Clara, tempted into the Mouse King's sleeve, there is an underlying uncertainty about whether these gorgeous, glowing spaces are ultimately safe places to be.
Originally from Oslo, Norway, Vilde Rolfsen earned a BA Hons from Kingston University and currently lives and works in London.
All images courtesy of the artist.